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Firing Tennessee’s top vaccine official is absurd

COVID-19 shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Republican elected officials have decided that the pandemic is over even though science says otherwise.
Politics trounced public health when the Tennessee Department of Health fired top vaccine official Michelle Fiscus on Monday.
The losers: the citizens of Tennessee.
Fiscus was terminated as TDOH’s medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs because she apparently was trying too hard to get every Tennessean to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s absurd and dangerous.
In recent weeks, lawmakers objected to the health department’s marketing focused on getting qualified children vaccinated.
Many of these lawmakers downplayed COVID-19 for over a year even as 12,500 of their fellow citizens died from the virus. They threatened to abolish the health department — during a pandemic.
Their bluster endangers the state.
Now, cases have risen by 175% over the last two weeks and only 38% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. Estimates show the state will not reach 50% until at least next year.
Tennessee is at the bottom of states in vaccinations and the highly transmissible Delta variant is leading to rising infection. Remember: 99% of the people who are dying from COVID-19 did not get vaccinated.
Fiscus previously warned of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in a guest opinion during a measles outbreak in 2019.
“Vaccinations work only when given before exposure to a disease,” she wrote. “Choosing not to vaccinate isn’t a safer choice. It’s a choice that welcomes disease, sickness and sometimes death.”
Her words were prescient for the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, her advocacy cost Fiscus her job this time.
But Fiscus did not stay silent about her termination and wrote a 1,200-word statement saying she feared for the state.
“It was my job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19,” she said in a written statement. “I have now been terminated for doing exactly that.”
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Republican elected officials have decided that the pandemic is over even though the science says otherwise.
They want restrictions, like mask mandates, ended for fully vaccinated people, but do little to nothing to urge their fellow Tennesseans to get vaccinated.
Fiscus condemned the anti-science politics and the politicians who have employed it to undermine the public’s faith in the effectiveness of the vaccine. Then, she pointed out something worse:
“What’s more is that the leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children,” she wrote.
A downside of the pandemic she noted: Parents delayed vaccinations for their children for a host of other infections, including measles, which could produce other health crises.
State officials claim they want to protect children, but now they are putting them in further danger.
Will Fiscus’ successor be someone who appeases misguided politicians or someone who courageously does his or her job even in the face of political scrutiny.
If it’s the former, we should all be afraid for Tennessee.
(Nashville Tennessean)